summit 2022 brain science

When legislators and staffers attending Eric Bailey’s session at Summit realized they weren’t as familiar with Apple’s corporate logo as they thought, they experienced what he calls the “‘Oh crap’ gap.”

The Certainty Trap: How Our Perceptions Don’t Always Match Reality

By Mark Wolf | Aug. 8, 2022 | State Legislatures News | Print

You know what the Apple logo looks like. Everybody knows what the Apple logo looks like. Probably the most recognizable corporate logo ever. You’d recognize it anywhere. You’re certain. Lead-pipe certain. Dead certain. Who doesn’t recognize the Apple logo?

And therein lies the problem, as the audience at Eric Bailey’s Legislative Summit session, “I Think Therefore I Err: Using Brain Science to Explain Irrational Behavior,” was about to discover.

summit 2022 brain science eric baileyWhen Bailey, president of Bailey Strategic Innovation Group, a human communication consulting firm, put up a slide with 10 versions of the iconic Apple logo, each with slight variations of the bite and the stem, and asked the audience to identify the correct one, a collective gasp arose.

Bailey called it the “‘Oh crap’ gap” as legislative staffers squinted, tilted their heads and did mental gymnastics trying to remember which way the stem tilted and how prominent was the bite. They shouldn’t feel bad, Bailey said. He posed the same question at a seminar in 2018 “and a guy from Apple got it wrong.”

“Getting it right is not the most important thing. It’s what you thought when you saw all of these. It’s, ‘I know, I know.’ Maybe you don’t. It’s the illusion of certainty,” Bailey said.

“Our brains like to project certainty, even when there is none,” he said. “To expedite cognition, our brains take shortcuts and jump to conclusions. Illusion grabs on to us and says, ‘I’m sure it’s this way.’ Even though you know about it, the illusion of certainty will come back to bite you.”

When Certainty Leads to Intolerance

One of the world’s fundamental problems, he said, is people losing the ability to communicate with each other.

“People unfriend people on Facebook all the time, usually because they disagree about politics. We say, ‘It’s no longer worth my time and energy to acknowledge you exist. I don’t want to see your kids’ pictures anymore because you put the wrong yard sign in your yard.

As we separate from people we disagree with, we are increasingly surrounded by people who think like we think and know what we know, he said.

“We stop learning, growing as a society, that’s where we are heading. ‘Unfriend’ is now a verb in the Oxford English dictionary. That’s a problem. If we learn how to engage with each other when we disagree, that’s how we can change the world.”

When people interact with the world differently than we do, he said, the natural reaction is to think ‘’We’re right, they’re wrong and we’re certain.”

To overcome that, “We need to practice radical curiosity, trying to understand the human across from you before expecting them to understand you. You have to be the better person. This is the burden of the enlightened.”

It’s our perceptions of others, rather than reality, that affect our relationships with those around us. For more on the visual illusions Eric Bailey uses to test perception and reality, visit his website. For more on his use of brain science, see his book “The Cure for Stupidity: Using Brain Science to Explain Irrational Behavior at Work.”

Mark Wolf is a senior editor at NCSL.

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